Dragon’s Den is a detailed and long-term activity ideal for a class studying Business English. It is based on the popular television program where would-be entrepreneurs pitch their business idea to potential investors to try and raise money to get their business off the ground.
The activity can be run over the course of several lessons. It can be broken down into shorter segments which can run anything from a few minutes to a full lesson and more.
Explain to your class that they are trying to set up a new business. They need money for this so they will be approaching a group of venture capitalists or “Dragons” and pitching their idea to them. Hopefully the Dragons will like the idea enough to invest in the business.
However, each group must have all the facts and figures of their business at their fingertips if they want the Dragons to be impressed enough to invest their own money in the business.
If you can, the activity should be run with one or more small groups of two or three students each. Tell the class that the Dragons will only invest in one business so they are competing against each other for the money!
The first step is the idea. What, in other words, will the business do? It may be manufacturing or sales or a franchise or a service company, etc.
If your students all work in a particular field then this should reflect that field. The idea needs to both be related to the work interests of the students and to be of use to them in the real world.
But because this is an exercise it can also be fun. This is a chance for the business people in your class to play with ideas and enjoy themselves also.
For example, if your students all work for a company which manufactures car parts then you can explain they are going to set up a brand new company to produce a high-end supercar. If they are all sales people perhaps you can ask them to sell something exotic – a new blockbuster film for example.
You may have to choose an idea for the class or you may allow them to come up with their own idea. You can also offer them several ideas.
Each group now needs to prepare their final pitch to the Dragons. For this they need to have an intimate knowledge of what their business will do and how it will do it. They will also need to know everything about how the business will be run in order to answer questions posed to them by the Dragons in the final pitch.
Each of the elements below is a separate activity which the groups can work on during the course of several lessons.
Is the company going to be a partnership or limited company? Give the group the options available to them in their country and have them work through each option to decide which is going to be best. There are plenty of resources online where you can get this information but make sure you allow the students to have input here and ideally find out by themselves about this.
Once this is decided, the group must decide together what their individual roles will be in the company. Who is boss? Who isn’t? This may need a vote.
Choosing a Name
The name should reflect the company and its objectives. This stage – as will many others – is going to involve a lot of discussion and voting.
But they need to make sure that the name is available and that it doesn’t already belong to another company. This will involve research online at Companies House (or the equivalent, see below).
Explain to the class that they will need to have a solid Business Plan they can give the Dragons. They will need to sit down and work out:
– The Objective
What exactly will the business do?
– The Market
What is the potential market likely to be for the business? This means researching the current market and finding how the new business can fit in.
Here they will need to research and find out about:
- Competitors. The Dragons will want to know how the new business will fit into the existing market and what makes the new business different from the competitors.
- Customers and Demand. How many customers are out there? If there group wants to produce a new fizzy drink then there are potential millions of customers, but if they’re making a supercar then the market is very limited.
The Dragons will want to know how the new business is going to promote and get its message across. The group will need to think, amongst other things, about:
- Print ads
- TV spots
- Viral marketing
- Newspaper stories
- Celebrity endorsements
During this kind of activity – and all activities here – try and step back as a teacher and allow the students to make all the decisions. You are there to help with the language only and to guide the class through the activities, not to lead them.
Stress to the group that they will need to come up with real facts and figures here which will involve them getting online and finding answers. The Dragons will ask them for financial details and they need to be able to answer questions like:
- How much will it cost to produce the product?
- What is your marketing budget?
- What will be your turnover for the first year?
- When do you expect to make a profit?
- What is the potential market for the product?
And much, much more!
Here the group needs to look into the financial aspect of the company. It is a specialized area but with the right guidance the students can at least provide a decent overview of this area. They will need to look at income, expenses, taxes, staff costs, production costs, etc.
The idea here is that the class become familiar with the typical expenses of a company. In real life they would hire an accountant, but at least by doing this exercise they are getting a basic knowledge in English of what is involved.
At the end of this stage they will need to produce a breakdown of income and revenue for the first three years of the company so they can tell the Dragons how much they hope to make over that time and what kinds of costs they’ll incur.
This is the culmination of the whole activity. The group needs to get together and prepare a detailed pitch to give to the Dragons. They need to look at how they will present the new business (try and get them to think outside the box and come up with innovative and memorable introductions here).
They may want to use props, slideshows, models, samples and so on. Let them.
Finally they will need to have all the facts and figures of their business at their fingertips.
You need a panel of Dragons to listen to each presentation and ask questions about this. It might be possible to have other students from different classes help out here or if all your students work for the same company you may be able to get a few managers from that company (who have a decent level of English) to come in and listen to the pitches and make unbiased decisions based on what they see.
You might also like to act the part of a Dragon yourself to ask some awkward questions.
Whatever method you choose you will have the Dragons prepared to ask questions about the business and make genuine inquiries about its viability.
Finally, of course, each group makes its pitch. The Dragons ask their questions and then decide which is the best idea and where they will invest their money.